The president announced that there will be additional Iran sanctions imposed:
I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 18, 2019
Many observers have pointed out that there is not much left to sanction, so this latest announcement is mostly symbolic, but it still sends exactly the wrong message to Iran. Sanctions have been the cause of the crisis with Iran, and the crisis wouldn’t exist without sanctions, so by piling on more of the same shows that the president is stuck going in only one direction of applying more punitive measures. The sanctions announcement may or may not be in lieu of military action, but as far as the Iranians are concerned the U.S. has already been committing an act of war against them for more than a year. The Trump administration assumed that they could wage economic war with impunity, but that was also wrong. Continuing to apply more pressure will provoke more resistance and defiance from the targeted government. Imposing additional sanctions is a good way to close off any opening for deescalation, and it shows that the administration is paying no attention to the Iranian position that negotiations can only begin after all sanctions have been lifted. The president’s economic war has brought us to this pass, but he remains oblivious to that fact.
Smart analysts have noted that Trump has dug himself into a hole with Iran. Negar Mortazavi wrote this earlier this week:
But as long as Trump is not willing to abandon his maximum pressure campaign of crippling sanctions on Iran, he may not be able to start real diplomacy with Tehran. Trump may have dug himself into a hole without any real way out of it. And the great deal-maker persona that he has been trying to maintain is more and more turning into a war hawk.
The first rule of holes, as everyone knows, is to stop digging, but judging from Trump’s announcement today he doesn’t understand that he is in a hole, much less how he got there. We are witnessing the results of Trump’s constant abuse of sanctions as a foreign policy tool, and it should be obvious by now that the administration resorts to using sanctions simply so that they can be seen as “doing something.” The policy of economic war and collective punishment has failed, but the administration has overcommitted to it so much that they can’t imagine reversing course.
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Author: Daniel Larison
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